ART: Fostering and temperament testing
FOSTERING AND TEMPERAMENT TESTING
Are you considering applying to be a foster home for Airedale Rescue? Or are you a rescue volunteer with the responsibility of deciding which of the foster home applicants will make the best candidates? In either case, there are important areas of training and behavioral knowledge with which you should be familiar, if you are to do an effective job.
Some rescue fosters seem so easy it’s like temporarily adding another dog to your home pack. Others will require more effort and study. Foster families have many responsibilities, among them, but not limited to:
- Giving the foster dog lots of attention and affection is an important part of the foster care process. However this must be done with meaning and structure. Working with basic obedience training exercises is an excellent way to give attention, which allows you to shower praise. Going for a walk is another way.
- Feeding the rescue a proper diet. This would normally be the diet you feed your home dogs, unless a special diet has been prescribed.
- Providing proper exercise as prescribed.
- Socializing the rescue with humans and with other animals.
- Transporting to and from the veterinarian’s office for necessary medical care.
- Brushing and basic coat care, producing a clean and well cared for dog while providing important human to rescue contact.
- Grooming, if able to provide that service, or transport to a professional groomer.
- Practicing or beginning basic obedience training exercises.
- Providing any special medical care, if necessary.
- Evaluating the rescue’s temperament and recording the results of testing.
When an individual (or family) is considering being a foster home provider, you should have them review the above list to see if they feel qualified to provide these responsibilities. If you find a lacking in one or more areas, let your area coordinator or your ART instructor know that they need to upgrade their skills in those areas.
When this applicant applies to a rescue group to be a foster provider, the group should require the applicant to submit a completed application to be a foster home provider. If the group does not have a specific foster home provider form, fill out the adoption application form. (This completed application will provide information important as part of the applicant’s background and experience with dogs.) A home visit for the applicant should then be scheduled. During the home visit the group representative will be able to review the above requirements with the applicant. This home visit will also allow the group representative to inspect the applicant’s home in regard to housing the foster, what the fencing situation is, and how the home pets will be handled with the foster dog in regard to sleeping, feeding and exercising.
Above items 1 through 9 are pretty basic canine-type duties. Item 10 however, may require training and guidance, which we can discuss and provide. There are many methods of temperament testing. We need to determine how we should do the testing and what we are looking for from those test results.
A dog’s temperament is the general attitude that he displays toward people and other animals. It’s usually a combination of inherited traits plus those developed through that dog’s life’s experiences. Temperament testing attempts to evaluate the dog’s attitudes through simple tests and watching the dog’s reactions to these tests. We as rescue volunteers use these test results to help us make the best match of a rescue and an adopting family. A negative for one adopter could be a positive for another. A highly energetic younger rescue could be a poor match for an older couple that would prefer a more laid back older rescue, but would be perfect for the very active younger couple who loves hiking and camping. A dog that is nervous with people grabbing at him would not be best matched with a family with children, but could be very comfortable with adults who understand this nervousness.
What we do in Airedale Rescue is a combination of allowing the rescue to live in the real-world environment of the foster home with simple testing to assist us in making our assessments.
Expect that a new foster may be shy and uncomfortable at first. After all, he has been uprooted from the home he knew, possibly has been living in a shelter with all of its confusion, and will need some time to relax and understand this foster home is a safe place. With the average rescue, after a day or two and you can see he is calmed down, there are simple tests you can begin to try.
1. Testing to see if a rescue is sociable. These are things a new family would probably try with him.
- Call the dog to you. Does he come to you when called?
- Does he enjoy being petted, or does he seem uncomfortable?
- Does he like being hugged, or does he pull away?
2. Does he have any food aggression?
- If approached while eating, does he growl?
- Can you remove the dish while he is eating?
3. Is he comfortable around children?
- Is he happy to play with them, or does he look worried?
- Does he share his toys with the children?
4. How does he act with other friendly dogs?
- Does he play well with them?
- Is he dominate or submissive with the other dogs?
5. What is his reaction to cats?
- Does he want to play, ignore them, or go into attack mode?
6. How does he react to new and unknown objects?
- Open an umbrella in his presence and watch his reaction.
- Is he curious? Does he want to investigate it? Does he show fear?
7. Check for separation anxiety by leaving him alone in a room.
- How does he handle that?
- When you re-enter the room a few minutes later, is he relaxed? Stressed?
8. Put your hands on the rescue as the vet would when doing a hands-on examination. Pick up his feet. Check his ears. Check his teeth.
- Does he seem relaxed with this?
- Does he seem uncomfortable?
9 Many Airedales do not like their feet handled.
- Does he accept gentle handling of the feet, or does he pull away?
- Does he growl when his feet are touched?
10. Does he like to play with toys?
- Does he willingly give up the toy if you want to take it?
These are simple tests that can be given in a relaxed environment, at different times, when interacting with the rescue. There are no right or wrong answers here (other than real aggression) but such observances are very important in matching the rescue’s temperament with a new adopting family.
If the rescue displays resistance to being handled, don’t force the situation. As you gather experience you will be able to determine when a rescue is displaying slight reluctance to being handled, and when he might bite. Don’t take chances. If the rescue growls or shows signs of distress when being handled, simply stop. Record the reaction in your journal.
Keep in mind the age of the rescue when determining responses to various situations. A young dog will probably be full of energy and want to play all the time. Older dogs may tire with play quickly, or perhaps not be interested at all. We have to work this into our assessments with different dogs.
The foster family should keep a journal to record results from these tests plus additional comments about the dog’s personality. The foster family’s journal and personal opinion
will be very important to the coordinator or volunteer who is matching the rescue to an adopting family.
I hope this information gives you the courage and confidence to become a foster home provider. It is the most rewarding experience you can have in rescue volunteering!
ART Newsletter Copyright 2009 by Sally Schnellmann and National Airedale Rescue. Reproduction in whole or in part is forbidden without the publisher's written permission.